Hobby gardener’s favourite becomes important commercial crop in race for earliest stems.
Couldn’t wait for your home-grown forced rhubarb this winter? Chances are if you relied on the first supermarket produce of the season, you’ve been eating Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’.
This extra early forcing variety was on sale in the wholesale markets from 30th December, beating forced rhubarb from the ‘Golden Triangle’ in West Yorkshire to stores by a full three weeks. Traditionally Golden Triangle rhubarb is the first to market every year.
The area is renowned for early rhubarb production and at its peak in the 1930s produced 90 per cent of the world’s forced winter rhubarb. It seems the region now has some tough competition from Essex growers producing commercial crops of Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’. And home growers could be beating the professionals at their own game too.
Rhubarb ‘Thompson’s Terrifically Tasty’
Thompson & Morgan Horticultural Director, Paul Hansord, said: “We’ve sold this top variety to home gardeners for many years, with the promise of the earliest natural harvest. Thick flavoursome stalks are produced in March –a full month ahead of all other varieties. But it now seems you could be enjoying your own fresh stalks with your Christmas leftovers!”
Industry experts agree. Fruit specialist Will Sibley said: “I cannot imagine that there is an earlier variety in commercial production. To bring the season on by a full three weeks, just goes to show the qualities of this top-tasting variety.”
If you are not already growing Thompsons Terrifically Tasty, a favourite with T&M customers, orders are now being taken for spring planting crowns, two for £9.99 or four for £17.99. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com or call 0844 573 1818
Forcing rhubarb for a late December or early January crop is simple. In late November cover crowns with straw and place a forcing pot, large tub or dustbin on top to block out the light. This will initiate out of season stem growth leading to the earliest possible harvest.
The T&M spring catalogues arrived this week and I am so excited! I have been choosing my plants for the summer customer trials. I shall concentrate my efforts on two areas – patio containers and hanging baskets and our allotment and greenhouse.
Petunia ‘Cremissimo’, ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Begonia ‘Garden Angels’
The theme on our patio is exotic, with year round interest provided by abutilons, ferns, fatsias, phormiums and heucheras so I have planned my selection to complement that: everything citrus coloured including NEW Petunia ‘Cremissimo’ – if its anything like last year’s ‘Peach Sundae’ then it’s going to be stunning! NEW Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, NEW Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and NEW Begonia ‘Garden Angels’, which look like heucheras-on-steroids! I am also going to try my hand at growing Ricinus Communis ‘Impala‘ from seed, Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ bulbs & NEW Curcuma ‘Twister’ tuber to go with the potted ginger lilies and cannas.
Calibrachoa ‘Kabloom Terracotta’, Ricinus communis ‘Impala’ and Curcuma ‘Twister’
In the greenhouse we have room for half a dozen cordon tomatoes and a couple of cucumbers, so this year we’re trying Tomato ‘Tutti Fruitti Collection’ for a change, but are sticking to Cucumber ‘Cucino’ as I haven’t found a mini cucumber to rival its productivity. I am fascinated at the thought of edible fuchsia berries so we are having a go at the NEW Fuchsia Berry. More modest trials for the allotment due to time constraints makes us focus on the more unusual, so after tastings at the T&M Trials Open Day last summer, we will try growing Cucamelon ‘Melothria’, Squash [Patty Pans] ‘Summer Mix’ and Courgette ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’.
Tomato ‘Rainbow Blend’ Cumcumber ‘Cucino’ and Fuchsia Berry
Of course I couldn’t stop there without buying a couple of things that I have no room for, so NEW Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Digitalis ‘Illumination Ruby Slippers’are on the list too!
David has been busy too, adding a small living wall to the front garden display; an area by our front door of about W:25cms x H:40cm with room for about 16 plants. It’s a north facing aspect so more ferns & grasses, and maybe a couple of hostas and herbs. Installing a drip irrigation system should be easy as the tap is situated conveniently right underneath.
The new planting scheme out front is settling in well, spring bulbs are coming up throughout and I have added a beautiful Hellebore ‘Spring Promise’ and a couple more ferns. David succeeded in finding two lovely tall containers to go either side of the front door for my Christmas present. Once installed securely I planted each one with chinodoxa bulbs for spring colour, three huge tree lilies for summer colour, infant contorted willows for year round interest (these quick growers will have to come out when we can no longer get through the front door) and hakonechloa aurea grass for good measure! Think I’ve been a bit too over-enthusiastic but hey, what the heck. David has created some unique lights too which are attracting lots of comments – using recycled bottles and jars.
Caroline’s house and front garden
Today it has snowed for the first time this winter, and a long time coming too! But never to be distracted from my plant addiction I’m off to the garden centre for my ferns and grasses! Watch this space……..
“We’ve really pushed out the boat with our new Petunia introductions this year, and it now means there’s a Petunia for almost any part of the garden! So, let’s take a bit of a tour…
Right outside your backdoor, there’s room for a few terracotta pots filled with some of the newest and most colourful petunias! Mix and match with varieties such as ‘Green with Envy’, new ‘Cloud Nine’ and super scented ‘Anna’! Or, for something really indulgent and show-off, try ‘Black Night’, with jet-black, velveteen blooms! Also, for little pots, try Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’, with its sprawling habit, with blooms a lot smaller than a standard petunia, but boy there’s a lot more of them!
Petunias ‘Green With Envy’, ‘Cloud nine’ and ‘Anna’
Then, look up, where Petunia ‘Surfinia’ is trying to escape the hanging baskets like Rapunzel letting down her hair! ‘Surfinia’ offer some of the longest trailing stems in the business, and is actually one of the best known petunias IN THE WORLD! For something a bit more ‘designer’, try out ‘Peach Sundae’. The flowers change colour from yellow to peach, with a myriad of shades in-between!
Petunias ‘Black Night’, Calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ and Petunia ‘Surfinia’
So, imagine you’re starting to walk down your garden, and you’ve got some borders by the path to fill. Why not plant a ground-covering variety that would make a low, billowing hedge! Step forward ‘Tidal Wave’! Although we often promote this as a climbing variety, the vigorous habit means it can also be used for carpeting. Don’t underestimate the sugary fragrance of each bloom either!
Petunias ‘Peach Sundae’, ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘Art Deco’
Then, if you really want to show off petunias in your borders, why not plant up some of the very new and very shiny, ‘Art Deco’! Each bloom is a work of art, and the plants are well-behaved in the border too, rounded and compact, with so many blooms you can’t see the foliage…!”
Children from St. Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Woodbridge grow our famous Tomtato®’s
St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge, Suffolk received a handful of our wonderful Tomtato® plants for free. We did this to encourage and educate the children about growing their own vegetables and the enjoyment this can bring. They lovingly grew their Tomtato®’s and sent us a letter thanking us for the plants which we gave for free, and telling us how they got on. The letter was from three of the class Rebecca, Charlotte and Ettie.
Letter from St Mary’s School Woodbridge
They also provided photographs of the plants, from which they had a bumper harvest. All the tomatoes and potatoes were then shared out between the growers and the class, so that each child was able to take some home to their parents and carers. The remainder of the produce was sold to the teachers and staff, who all said the tomatoes and potatoes were scrumptious!
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Growing
This exercise has hopefully shown the children and parents that growing your own fruit and vegetables is neither difficult nor time consuming. It brings great rewards and shows everyone how to become self sustaining, as we all know that home grown is best.
St Mary’s and Tomtato® Fully Grown
The children seemed to have a lot of fun and lets hope we can encourage more children to grow their own fruit and vegetables.
Thank you St. Mary’s Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School in Woodbridge for your lovely letter and super photographs.
I am so pleased to announce that Thompson & Morgan have allowed me to come back and write a new series about my garden entitled Another Year in the Greenhouse. To be honest, I thought I made so many basic greenhouse mistakes that they would run screaming to the hills. However, it was quite the opposite; they said they liked to hear about the failures as well as the successes; after all I am not a trained gardener. I’m just an ordinary person with an office job, who likes to escape into the greenhouse whenever I can.
I really hope I don’t make such silly mistakes though. Last year I thought it would be so easy to erect a second greenhouse and apply the same principles that I had to the original smaller one. Unfortunately I didn’t think about how the light would fall, how the sun moved on a different course or how the slope of the garden would make it look like I was standing at an angle even though the base was perfectly level, giving me horrible vertigo especially after a severe dose of Labrynthitis.
The Labrynthitis, was my worst gardening problem as it lasted months, I would stand in the greenhouse with my eyes squeezed shut hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing into the plants or glass, all the while thinking I can’t give in, I have plants to grow and a blog to write!
So this year my resolution is to do a better job than I did last year. At least I have a good amount of spring flowers and bulbs growing healthily already in them. With the extremely mild winter that we have so far had, the Californian Poppies have developed strong roots, and although they are currently a bit sleepy there does look like fresh green leaves on them.
I have no idea how the Yarrows will be potted on as they went from tiny seedlings to plug plants practically overnight. The roots are so tangled I could end up damaging them, I think the best thing I can do is to put them in bigger pots in one root ball as soon as possible and start hardening them off in February, then plant them in the old hollyhock patch in Spring.
After reading many different articles on the best time to sow sweet peas, I thought I would try a September sowing to see for myself if they would last through the dark months. Amazingly they have, although during late December I had to keep nipping the tops as they were getting too tall. They have now put out side shoots that should develop extra flowers in the summer. I only planted two seeds as I didn’t want to waste them if it went wrong, now I wish I had grown more. January is also a very good time to start off sweet peas so I am considering growing some more.
Bo t h my mum and Mark’s parents gave me garden related Christmas gifts, two sets of hanging shelves for the big greenhouse and some clever cane grips that mean I can create wigwams without having to fight with the string and scissor. So one of the first jobs Mark did this month was to wash all of the glass again because the salt laden winds have really taken its toll, and the second job was to put the shelves up. They only useful thing I did was make the tea stand in the greenhouse so he sees if I could reach them or not. My being five foot has its advantages, in that he didn’t have to stretch very far or use a step ladder to get the shelves at the height I wanted.
A quick inventory of the small greenhouse consists of the above mentioned plants plus, a red geranium that is still flowering since September, a tomato plant, two pots of Nigella, two tiny Broccoli seedlings, a spiky cactus that I forgot to bring indoors, five Aloe Vera’s, a Spider Plant that is too big for indoors, and a Thyme cutting. In the border of the small greenhouse was Spinach Beet that had got seriously big and bitter tasting so we pulled it up, as I have a new plan for this border. I will definitely grow Spinach Beet again though in the autumn as it’s so reliable and tasty. In the large greenhouse I have a Bell Pepper that is still trying to produce fruits. I don’t know if you can grow peppers for more than one year but this one hasn’t died off so, I keep picking off and composting the tiny fruit in the hope that I can move it to a sunnier spot in the greenhouse. Also overwintering is my large Aloe Vera and a Money Plant. I had hoped to utilise the space more in the winter but a late slug attack meant my cauliflowers and cabbage seedlings were destroyed.
My final jobs for January will be to start washing my slightly dusty pots, sieve the garden centre bought compost and plant some more seeds. This month is ideal for starting off Snap Dragons, Geraniums, Dianthifolia and Pennisetum and Salad leaves. I will be growing all of these from seed plus two others that I am hugely excited about. One is the half hardy shrub Banksia Hookeriana which will eventually replace a dying broom. The other is a Cycad. A truly magical greenhouse fern. I say this because when I was sent the seeds last year from Thompson & Morgan I had no idea what it was. I had to go on their website to find out and it amazed me. The cycad is a fossil, it was on Earth long before the dinosaurs, it has lived through millions of years of climate change, and evolution. It’s hard to believe I have a seed in my hands that is so ancient and yet so new. I was telling a friend about it and I said I was worried about accidentally destroying something so historically valuable. Don’t get me wrong the seeds are not hugely expensive and it’s not a rare endangered fern as the seeds wouldn’t be for sale, I just meant that I hope I can be trusted to grow something that has been around forever without getting it wrong. I think I will be doing some more research though before I open the packet though.
Finally, if I have whetted your appetite for seed sowing, then take advantage of the January sales, there are often offers for half price or even free packets or seeds. This month Thompson & Morgan are offering readers of a National Magazine twelve packets of free seeds for £3.20 P&P. They include vegetables, flowers for cutting and flowers for wildlife. I’m tempted are you?
Until next month.
Petunia Hanging Basket
I love petunias, they are so bright and colourful and make beautiful displays in hanging baskets and containers. I use mainly baskets and containers in my garden which are displayed on my decking at the front of my house during the summer.
This year I wanted to do something different with the petunias. Our local football team AFC Bournemouth had been promoted to the Premier League so I decided to do something in their honour. I have a stand with three baskets, small, medium and large which stands by my front door. The Bournemouth colours are black and red so I bought some red double petunias and was able to find some single black petunias which looked just like velvet. I planted them and stood back to await the results. Bournemouth Football club sent me a digital photo of their emblem which I enlarged and put in the window at the side of the petunias. It caused interest amongst neighbours especially those who were supporters including two of my grandchildren. As you see on the photo I had a hanging basket with the same petunias in just to the right of the stand and they ended up in growing together.
I also grew some very different petunias, a cerise colour with very light leaves which really showed up the colour of the flower and lasted for most of the summer. Another idea I had was to grow red, white and blue petunias for the fence baskets which worked out very well, and also a red, white and blue triple hanging basket. Red in the top, white in the middle and blue in the bottom basket.
I have also had success with growing petunias in hanging bags but have learnt from previous disappointments that when I have planted up the bag is to leave it lying flat until they are settled. This seemed to work much better for me this year. I really like the new kind of petunia which graduates from white in the centre to a deeper colour middle to top of the flower. A couple of years ago I tried some climbing petunias – Petunia ‘Tidal Wave’ – which were very successful.
Petunia in hanging bag
Of course it hasn`t all been success, I got up one morning only to find that the dripper from the watering system had fallen out of one of the baskets and the strong winds we had dried it out completely. Although I tried very hard to save it I wasn`t able to, and another basket this happened to, I had to cut them right back, soaked it in a bucket of water and in about a month they were all flowering again, so at 77 I still have to ‘live and learn`!
This year I bought some petunias called Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’ they were beautiful shades of yellow, orange and peach. They lasted throughout the whole summer no matter what the weather did, including some torrential rain and hailstones but after a few days they all just bounced back again.
Petunia ‘Peach Sundae’
I am now wondering which petunias I shall plant for this coming year? Roll on summer I say.